Garth Crooks' team of the week: Mata, Lukaku, Jesus, Courtois

Garth Crooks' Team of the Week

Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-1 to stay nine points clear at the top of the Premier League, while Tottenham remain second after a 1-0 win at home to Middlesbrough.

Manchester City climb from fifth to third after a 2-1 win over Swansea City, with Liverpool dropping one place to fifth after a 2-0 defeat at lowly Hull City and Manchester United remain sixth after a 3-0 win at Leicester City.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Sunderland away to Crystal Palace, Everton against Bournemouth, West Ham at Southampton, Watford against Burnley and West Brom at home to Stoke City.

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Goalkeeper - Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtouis
Despite conceding late against Arsenal, Thibaut Courtois has kept 13 Premier League clean sheets this season, four more than any other goalkeeper

All that nonsense about Chelsea handing Arsenal the title when they sold Petr Cech to their rivals couldn't have been further from the truth. The Gunners were mauled at Stamford Bridge.

There were two moments of inspiration from Arsenal which resulted in two world-class saves by Thibaut Courtois. A wonderful tip over the bar from a Gabriel header in the first half and a brilliant save from a Danny Welbeck effort in the second made it absolutely clear that the Blues, and Courtois in particular, were determined to slam the Premier League door on Arsenal's fingers.

Courtois has only conceded seven league goals at home all season while Arsenal appear to be giving goals away like they are going out of fashion. Chelsea have bolstered their challenge by taking a point at Liverpool and all in the space of four days. Petr Cech eventually lost his place at Chelsea to Courtois and now we see why. Chelsea have invested in youth and look like winning titles again.

Right-back - Michail Antonio (West Ham)

West Ham defender Michail Antonio (left)
Only Dimitri Payet (six) has more assists than Michail Antonio (left) in the Premier League this season (three) for West Ham

There are a number of reasons for West Ham's resurgence, not least because they have the good fortune to play away from that dreadful ground they call home.

The departure of Dimitri Payet has served to galvanise the dressing room, Andy Carroll has been immense since his return to the side, but doesn't make my Team of the Week because of better performances elsewhere, and the ever-present Michail Antonio. This young man has had a very impressive season acknowledged by an international call-up.

Manager Slaven Bilic has also had to rely on players like Mark Noble, Winston Reid and Cheikhou Kouyate to haul them free from what was a perilous time for the Hammers.

Their victory against Southampton was as good as it gets, bearing in mind they went 1-0 down early in the game. A manager simply cannot put a value on a player who is available week in, week out and Antonio is one of them. His link-up play with Carroll was a feature of West Ham's game at St Mary's and Southampton's downfall.

Centre-back - Andrea Ranocchia (Hull City)

Andrea Ranocchia
Italian defender Andrea Ranocchia (right) won all seven of his aerial duels against Liverpool and provided Oumar Niasse with an assist on his first Premier League start

This lad wasn't even supposed to be on the pitch. However, one of the benefits of being a foreign manager is Marco Silva will probably have a healthy network of international scouts who can plunder the January transfer window. Enter Andrea Ranocchia - a last-minute replacement for the injured Michael Dawson.

Silva had every right to panic when he realised he was going to be without his captain for a vital fixture against Liverpool but he needn't have bothered - Ranocchia was absolutely superb at the back for the Tigers.

Some pundits have criticised the appointment of Silva, claiming he didn't have the credentials to manage in the Premier League. His performance so far suggests otherwise.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's season is over which makes me curious about Jurgen Klopp's remarks about his players needing to 'wake up'. I don't know if Klopp is in charge of transfers but he is certainly responsible for selecting the team.

He has continually refused to fix an inadequate defence [if he had done, the title was there for the taking] and had no appreciation of how seriously teams in this country take the FA Cup. And he has the audacity to tell his players to wake up.

Centre-back - Lamine Kone (Sunderland)

Sunderland defender Lamine Kone (centre)
Lamine Kone scored his first Premier League goal since last May in Sunderland's convincing 4-0 win over Crystal Palace

Back from the Africa Cup of Nations and boy was Lamine Kone missed. The sheer presence of the Ivory Coast defender at the back for Sunderland was immediate, but did anyone expect the central defender to make such a difference on his return or to open the scoring against Crystal Palace?

As for the Eagles, I thought that the sacking of Alan Pardew was premature and by definition the appointment of Sam Alladyce a little early. What Big Sam went through during the England departure would have knocked anyone's confidence and a little more time for him to rehabilitate might have been wise.

I wonder if the former Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn manager has lost a bit of his mojo. His team certainly have.

Left-back - Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)

Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso
Marcos Alonso has won every English league game in which he has scored, netting in five games for Bolton and, this season, three for Chelsea

This lad is having a fantastic season. How ironic Marcos Alonso's Chelsea debut was against Arsenal, but he is a very different player now than he was then.

The mere fact that it was the left wing-back who responded the quickest to the loose ball and bulldozed Hector Bellerin in order to get it says as much about manager Antonio Conte as it does his team - Chelsea are hungry and ruthless.

The very thought of Arsene Wenger considering that the challenge on Bellerin by Alonso was a foul makes me think that the Arsenal manager is starting to lose his perspective.

No referee who wanted to keep his credibility would have given a free-kick. Besides, it was a brilliant challenge by Alonso and an excellently taken goal.

I have an enormous regard for Wenger and his achievements but when you start squaring up to fellow managers and pushing officials you really have to consider whether a break from the profession might be the healthy option.

I also sense restlessness among the fans and it would be a great pity if Wenger was forced out instead of given a dignified exit. There's a lot to be said when an individual can identify the time to move on.

Midfield - Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)

Manchester United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan (top)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored and assisted in a Premier League game for the first time against Leicester

To see this player in full flight with the ball at his feet is a sight to behold. Not since the great Laurie Cunningham have I seen a player who runs as quick with the ball at his feet as he does without it.

His goal against Leicester is fast becoming a trademark for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. When the Armenia midfielder took off inside his own half , skipped around a stranded Robert Huth and headed towards Kasper Schmeichel in goal, you instinctively knew it was going to end badly for the Foxes.

Mkhitaryan hits the ball so well on the run and in full stride - it is a wonderful attribute and one I won't get tired of seeing.

Midfield - N'Golo Kante (Chelsea)

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante right
No Chelsea player made more tackles (four) in their game against Arsenal than N'Golo Kante

This game wasn't about revenge - this was about something far more important than that. This was about putting Arsenal out of the title race and that's precisely what Chelsea did.

After all, they had been to Anfield four days earlier and made it abundantly clear to Klopp that you need more than an enchanting smile and a pressing game to win the Premier League title. You need an N'Golo Kante in midfield and two central defenders who can defend.

Against Liverpool it was David Luiz who received the plaudits but it was Kante's continual interceptions that caused the damage. And so it was against Arsenal.

This 'silent force' is fast becoming my player of the season. He may not have the skill of Eden Hazard or the explosive game of Alexis Sanchez but what he does have is a winning mentality.

The Frenchman now looks set to be the first player to win the Premier League title with two different teams in consecutive seasons. I think that in itself deserves special praise.

Midfield - Juan Mata (Manchester United)

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata
Since his debut, Juan Mata has been involved in 86 Premier League goals (44 goals, 42 assists)

Should Juan Mata have been sent off? Probably. The fact that he wasn't had more to do with it being Mata rather than Granit Xhaka of Arsenal, for example, who was sent off recently for a very similar tackle.

To say reputations don't matter is rubbish. Of course they matter. The Spain international is a dreadful tackler and has no business ever going to ground.

However, the difference between Mata and Xhaka was that no-one was hurt. Had Mata inflicted damage then that would have provided a different dynamic for the referee.

The result was that United's midfield maestro along with his accomplice Mkhitaryan continued to take Leicester apart. I've said before in this column that Leicester are playing with fire. Not to take the Premier League seriously, or worse, allow it to play second fiddle to the Champions League, is a betrayal of their fans.

Leicester still have time to stop dreaming about European glory and secure their status in the greatest league in the world. Nothing should threaten that.

Forward - Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)

Sunderland forward Jermain Defoe
Since the start of last season, Jermain Defoe has scored 29 Premier League goals for Sunderland

David Moyes is a very lucky man to have Jermain Defoe leading his attack. I can think of half a dozen Premier League clubs who wanted Defoe's services.

The reason Moyes has him is because he inherited the signing and the Sunderland manager is astute enough to resist whatever overtures he's had during the transfer window in order to keep him.

The transfer threat has gone for now and just as well because the Black Cats have a monumental relegation fight on their hands. In fact they don't come much bigger than against Crystal Palace, nevertheless Sunderland absolutely destroyed them.

To be 4-0 up at half time must have been a glorious feeling for Defoe, who took his goals with the usual dexterity.

Defoe is Sunderland's Premier League lifeline. However, the question is, can they keep him?

Forward - Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

Everton forward Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku scored the Premier League's 300th hat-trick with a four-goal haul against Bournemouth

It's pretty impressive when a striker scores a hat-trick but it's something entirely different when he scores four goals in a top-class fixture. I must say when I saw the way Romelu Lukaku buried his first past a stranded Artur Boruc, I thought 'he fancies it today'.

What preceded that glorious strike was finishing of the highest order. Everton have had some wonderful strikers over the years: Joe Royle, Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp and now Lukaku, it would appear, is about to join that band of iconic names.

The only problem for Lukaku is the aforementioned actually won trophies while playing for the Toffees. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in football but winning trophies is what characterises careers and that must be the next item on the striker's agenda.

Forward - Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)

Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus
Gabriel Jesus became just the third Brazilian to score on his first two Premier League starts

I promised myself that I wasn't going to mention words like miracles and redemption when talking about Gabriel Jesus, but it's extremely difficult when those terms are somewhat relevant.

The fact that Manchester City beat Swansea at all was rather fortuitous. The young Brazilian certainly had big shoes to fill as he had replaced Sergio Aguero in City's starting line-up.

I don't know what is going on at City but it doesn't look like a happy camp to me. When Pep Guardiola continues to play around with team formations, [which is his prerogative], leaves his best striker out and substitutes Kevin de Bruyne [who looked far from happy], you start to question his motives.

Is he losing patience with his stars and putting 'faith' in those more likely to do precisely what he says? Whatever the reason, and there will be one, Guardiola may have found a saviour in Jesus. Sorry but I couldn't resist it!

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